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Peter D. A. Boyd

Rosiers Pimprenelles, Pimpinellifolias or Scots Roses

Peter D. A. Boyd

Web version (in English) of

BOYD, P.D.A. 2006. 'Rosiers Pimprenelles, Pimpinellifolias ou Scots Roses' Roses et Roseraies (Bulletin de l'Association, "Les Amis de la Roseraie du Val-de-Marne" á l'Haÿ les Roses) No. 64 - Juillet 2006. Version française disponible


During my visit to examine the 'Pimpinellifolias' at the Roseraie du Val-de-Marne á l'Haÿ les Roses in May 2006, Louis Bobichon asked me to write an article for the Bulletin. I have prepared notes on most of the 'Pimpinellifolia' roses in the Roseraie with comments on their identification for the use of the Association. However, this article does not discuss the roses in the 'Allée des rosiers pimprenelle' in detail but provides a general introduction to my interest in 'Pimpinellifolias' and makes some general observations on the history of Scots Roses and 'Rosiers Pimprenelles' in France and at the Roseraie at l'Haÿ.

There are several ways in which people use the word 'Pimpinellifolias'. Many people use it to mean cultivars and hybrids of Rosa spinosissima (also known as Rosa pimpinellifolia) while other people use the name to embrace other species within the group Pimpinellifoliae (e.g. R. ecae, R. foetida, R. hugonis and R. sericea). The 'Allée des rosiers pimprenelle' in the Roseraie contains cultivars of Rosa spinosissima (including typical Scots Roses) and some of the related species and hybrids, while a few are planted elsewhere in the Roseraie.

Scots Roses

Cultivars of Rosa spinosissima are now known as 'Scots Roses', 'Scots Briars' or 'Burnet Roses' but, when they were most popular, in the early 19th century, they were known as 'Scotch Roses'. Rosa spinosissima is one of Britain's native wild roses. While the name Rosa spinosissima is now considered the correct name for this species, Rosa pimpinellifolia is still used by some people. Therefore, Scots Roses are often known as 'Pimpinellifolias' but, as mentioned above, the term 'Pimpinellifolias' can have a wider meaning.

Scots Roses are 'cheerful' little roses and they have a special character that is very appealing. Although the individual flowers are only about 5cm (2 inches) across, they are usually produced in such abundance that a single shrub can be spectacular and create a halo of perfume. They like full exposure to sunshine, they are very hardy, will thrive in poor sandy or stony soils and, when established, they are resistant to drought.

The sweetly scented single white flowers are on borne on prickly stems with small leaves and most forms have a spreading suckering habit. However, the flowers are not always white and supposedly isolated wild populations include plants possessing flowers in cream, pink or more intense colours. Whether all of these colours can arise naturally within the species or whether some arise from pollination with other species with coloured flowers is a matter of debate. The colour of stems, bristles, thorns and foliage can also be very variable in wild populations and give rise to attractive 'selections' but the heps of the species are normally rounded and such a dark purple that they appear to be black.

However, selection of seedlings from wild and cultivated forms has given rise to even greater variation than has been observed in the wild. These include cultivars with single, semi-double and fully double flowers in white, cream, yellow, pink, red, purple and mauve including subtle combinations of colour and some with distinct mottled, marbled or striped petals. Cultivated forms may also exhibit considerable variation in colour and shape of heps that, with other features, indicate a hybrid with another species or a garden rose that might itself be a complex hybrid. Some wild and cultivated forms also provide spectacular autumn colour in yellows, oranges, reds and purple.

Scots Roses flower profusely for a relatively short period and then they are finished until the next year (as with most species and many old rose cultivars). In the case of Scots Roses, the main flowering may be in May, June or July depending on the particular cultivar, whether it is an early or late spring and the latitude or altitude of the garden. They do not flower throughout the summer like many modern roses but those that flower earliest may also have a few flowers in the autumn. However, they provide an extended period of interest in the garden with their attractive foliage, which may colour well in the autumn, and their shiny black heps.

My research on Scots Roses

My garden is situated in the Shropshire Hills at an altitude of over 300 metres, close to the border between England and Wales. It is a new garden being created in several hectares of rough and exposed hillside that resembles parts of Scotland. I have many gardening interests but one of these is collecting, growing and researching Scots Roses. I am fascinated by the history of this group of roses which was very fashionable in the early nineteenth century but which is now unknown by many gardeners. The Scots Roses in my garden give me a lot of pleasure because of their charm and their ability to thrive in quite harsh conditions. They also remind me of the people that I have met and the places that I have explored in searching for them.

I have been interested in Scots Roses since the 1960s and, over the years, have discovered many old cultivars of Scots Roses still growing in old gardens, by deserted ruined cottages and even by the side of country roads in Scotland. In the course of my trips to Scotland and elsewhere (particularly over the last ten years) I have met many interesting people and made new friends who have been very kind to me. My collection of Scots Roses has been enlarged through the generosity of individual private gardeners, the owners or Head Gardeners of large historic gardens and through purchasing roses from nurseries in Britain, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, France and elsewhere.

I have built up what I believe to be the largest collection of Scots Roses in Britain (about 200 cultivars plus numerous seedlings) but my research into the history of Scots Roses has shown that, in the past, there were over 900 named cultivars available from nurseries – even more than realised by previous writers.

My collection of Scots Roses has been submitted to the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG) in Britain for National Collection status. It is my ultimate aim to be able to make properly named cultivars of Scots Roses available to Botanic Gardens and for propagation by nurseries so that the old varieties are not lost and can be obtained by modern gardeners.

However, my research has not only been concerned with surviving cultivars of Scots Roses. I am writing a book on their history and nomenclature that aims to be a fully referenced 'definitive' source of information for garden historians and rose lovers. I have derived a list of nearly 1000 names of Scots Rose cultivars from 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st century nursery catalogues, rose books and other publications and I intend that my book will include a listing of all the known old and more modern cultivars, with descriptions of each cultivar where known.

I have used the information derived from my research into old varieties to help determine the accuracy of the labelling of Rosa spinosissima cultivars in the Roseraie at l'Haÿ.

Work on my book continues and is nearing completion but, in the meantime, I have tried to tell people about Scots Roses and the preliminary results of my research though publication of articles for appropriate journals and web versions on my website at www.peterboyd.com .

In the course of my research, I contacted Dr Volker Wissemann of the Institut für Spezielle Botanik der Universität Jena about his work into the genetics of wild Rosa spinosissima which he carried out while working at The Natural History Museum in London and told him about my own work on cultivated forms of this species. We corresponded on Rosa spinosissima , exchanged copies of each other's publications and, a few months later, I received an invitation to visit the Europa-Rosarium at Sangerhausen from Dr. Wissemann and Frau Hella Brumme, Director of the Europa- Rosarium. The Stiftung des Vereins Deutscher Rosenfreunde funded my visit to assist with the identification of Rosa spinosissima cultivars in the Rosarium collection. I have been invited to visit the Rosarium again in June 2006. That first visit to the Europa- Rosarium in May 2004 was a valuable experience that helped to broaden my knowledge of Rosa spinosissima cultivars and hybrids in mainland Europe. My understanding of the survival of old cultivars in Europe has been further improved by my visit to the Roseraie at l'Haÿ les Roses in May 2006.

A brief account of the history of Scots Roses

The only Scots Roses that appear in British nursery catalogues before the year 1800 are the single flowered white, a single red and one with single marbled or striped flowers. Although I suspect that a 'Double White' may have arisen in the wild or a garden long before then, there is no evidence that it was available through nurseries.

The first double-flowered Scots Roses were supposedly raised in the nursery of Dickson and Brown (later Dickson and Turnbull) of Perth in Scotland. In 1793, Robert Brown and his brother transplanted some of the wild Scots Roses into the nursery from Kinnoull Hill on the outskirts of Perth. One of these bore flowers slightly tinged with red and a seedling raised from that plant bore flowers with more petals than normal. Through a repeated process of sowing seed and selection from the seedlings semi-double forms were obtained and by 1802 and 1803 they had eight good double varieties to propagate and sell.

Robert Austin of Austin and McAslan, Glasgow nurserymen, obtained plants from the Perth nursery in about 1805 and had raised about 100 new varieties of double Scots Roses by about 1820. By the mid 1820s, Robert Austin had raised and offered for sale over 200 varieties. Other nurserymen in Scotland and England raised other varieties of Scots Roses. Most of these nurserymen, including several on the outskirts of London, were ex-patriot Scots or of Scottish descent and it seems to have become a matter of Scottish pride to raise or sell Scots Roses.

Many Head Gardeners of large private estates in England, Wales and Ireland were also Scotsmen. Scotsmen had been favoured in these positions since the eighteenth century. Therefore, it is not surprising that many large landowners in England had collections of Scots Roses either because of their own taste or because of the influence of their Head Gardener.

The popularity of Scots Roses declined during the 19th century as new recurrent flowering rose hybrids were developed but Rosa spinosissima was used as a parent in a number of complex hybrids raised during the 20th century in Germany, Canada, Finland and elsewhere (e.g. Frühlingsmorgen). These hybrids tend to have larger flowers and leaves than R. spinosissima and a different habit of growth. However, I am most interested in the early cultivars and hybrids of Rosa spinosissima that I consider to be 'true Scots Roses' and more modern cultivars with a similar character.

Scots Roses in France

Although hundreds of new varieties of garden rose were raised in France during the 19th century, most of the early cultivars and hybrids of Rosa spinosissima were raised in Scotland and England. The majority of these were selected from the wild or raised from seedlings between about 1800 and 1830. Nurserymen in France (where such roses were called 'Rosiers Pimprenelles') and other parts of mainland Europe raised a much smaller number of varieties. It seems that very few of the Scots Roses raised in Britain reached the gardens of France.

Unfortunately, a state of war existed between Britain and France from 1803 to 1815, during the early years of the development of Scots Roses. This caused an interruption in normal commerce and exchange of plants. Even after the hostilities ceased, some French nurserymen such as Vibert (who fought for Napoléon Bonaparte in the war) disliked anything to do with Britain. This attitude and a natural pride in roses bred by French nurserymen may account for the small number of those Rosa spinosissima 'varieties' that had been raised in Britain being listed in the early French rose books and nursery catalogues that I have examined.

Desportes listed about 120 'varieties' or hybrids of Rosa spinosissima (Rosier Pimprenelles) in his Roses cultivées en France (published in 1829) but most of them were raised by Vibert, Prévost and other French nurserymen. Only a few of the varieties listed originated in Britain although some British nurseries could offer 300 varieties of Scots Rose by that time. Boitard in his Manuel Complet de l'Amateur de Roses (published in 1836) only lists about 65 Pimprenelles and most of those roses listed there were raised in France.

Scots Roses or 'Pimprenelles' became less popular after the introduction of repeat- flowering roses. Very few 'varieties' or hybrids of Rosa spinosissima were commercially available in Britain or France by the end of the 19th century.

The catalogue of the roses grown in the Roseraie de L'Haÿ ('Les Roses cultivées à L'Haÿ en 1902') only lists about 30 'sub-species', 'varieties' and hybrids of Rosa spinosissima plus a few more 'varieties' of Rosa foetida (Rosa lutea) that are actually hybrids between R. spinosissima and R. foetida (cultivars of Rosa x harisonii). The Pimprenelles raised by French nurserymen and listed by Desportes (1829) and Boitard (1836) were apparently no longer readily available by 1892 when Gravereaux created the Roseraie. Many varieties had probably became extinct within a few years of being raised in the 19th century.

When I visited the Roseraie at l'Haÿ les Roses in May 2006, I was shown a recent draft catalogue of the collection listing the names of about 50 'pimpinellifolias' planted in the 'Allée des rosiers pimprenelle'. Unfortunately, due to the late spring, a number of the roses that would normally have been in bloom at the time of my visit were still in bud. My examination of stems, leaves and buds of the roses not yet in bloom had to be supplemented with a study of photographs of flowers and heps taken by members of the Association in a previous year.

Not all the roses in the 'Allée des rosiers pimprenelle' are 'Pimpinellifolias'. The length of the 'Allée' is punctuated with rose arches and pillars against which climbing roses are planted and there are also climbing roses planted against the wall behind it. These climbing roses and several shrub roses planted in the 'Allée' are not 'Pimpinellifolias' – neither cultivars of Rosa spinosissima nor other species within the Pimpinellifoliae.

Most true Scots Roses have slender stems that bear a mixture of thorns and bristles, small leaves and relatively small flowers that develop into rounded black heps. The shrub gradually grows sideways by stems emerging from underground shoots known as suckers or root-shoots. Over a period, typical Scots Roses form bushes made up of many slender prickly stems creating a more or less rounded mass of foliage that is covered by hundreds of sweetly scented flowers in May or June. Some other cultivars, particularly Rosa spinosissima x Rosa pendulina hybrids (forms of Rosa x reversa), produce fewer suckers and have a more upright habit.

The roses in the 'Allée des rosiers pimprenelle' include a number of 'true Scots Roses' with stems, foliage and flowers typical of the group. The 'Allée' also contains roses that are less typical Scots Roses but are generally included with them. These include at least three forms of R. spinosissima 'Grandiflora', cultivars of Rosa x reversa (R. spinosissima x R. pendulina), single and double flowered cultivars of Rosa x harisonii (R. spinosissima x R. foetida) and also cultivars such as the striking 'Cherry Red' that I believe to be a hybrid.

The Scots Roses in the 'Allée des rosiers pimprenelle' form an interesting and important collection. Unfortunately, many of the roses are planted rather close to each other (sometimes less than a metre apart) so that it has been necessary to 'control' them by severe pruning and removing suckers. Therefore, the roses have not been able develop their natural form and full potential. Such roses tend to have fewer flowers, look less attractive, are less healthy and will probably not live as long as Pimpinellifolias in other parts of the Roseraie that have been planted so that they are growing on their own roots and allowed more space to develop.

My examination of the collection at l'Haÿ with Louis Bobichon, Yves Féger and Etienne Bouret has shown that a substantial number of the Pimpinellifolias are now incorrectly named. In a few simple cases, it seemed that labels have been mixed-up between adjacent plants. In other cases there is no straightforward answer to what has happened – the answers may be lost details in the history of the Roseraie!

Some of the 'Pimpinellifolias' listed in Les Roses cultivées à L'Haÿ en 1902 are still present in the Roseraie as labels. However, a great deal can happen in 100 years! Plants can die, varieties that were not in the original list can be added to the Roseraie and labels can be lost or become mixed-up. Some plants may also have been wrongly named when they came into the garden and the names of scientific names may have been changed. Therefore, there are many opportunities for confusion and error to arise which may not be the fault of anyone still living! We were able to correct some of these errors during my visit.

I am very grateful for the invitation to visit the Roseraie received from l'Association, "Les Amis de la Roseraie du Val-de-Marne" á l'Haÿ les Roses and the hospitality that I received - particularly from its President, Louis Bobichon, Yves Féger and Etienne Bouret. I hope that my visit was useful and that I will be able to come to the Roseraie again to examine roses that were not in flower on this visit.

For further reading about Scots Roses see:

Boyd, P. D. A. (2005). 'A Personal Crusade in Search of Scots Roses' / 'Ein persönlicher Kreuzzug auf der Suche nach Dünenrosen'. Rosenjahrbuch 2005, Verein Deutscher Rosenfreunde e. V., Baden-Baden, Germany. pp. 117-129. Web version (in English) at http://www.peterboyd.com/rosapimp6.htm.

Boyd, P.D.A. (2005). 'In Search of lost Scots Roses'. PlantNetwork Newsletter No. 29, Cambridge. Based on part of a talk 'Darwin's family garden in Shrewsbury and the search for lost Scots Roses' presented to the PlantNetwork Conference on 'Historic and Cultural Significance of Plants in Cultivation' at the University of Birmingham, September 2005. Web version at http://www.peterboyd.com/rosapimp5.htm .

Boyd, P. D. A. (2005). 'Scots Roses for Scottish gardens'. The Scottish Garden, spring 2005. pp. 10-15.

Boyd, P. D. A. (2004). 'Scots Roses in Europe and the Europa-Rosarium at Sangerhausen in Germany'. NCCPG Shropshire Group Newsletter, autumn 2004. Web version at http://www.peterboyd.com/sangerhausen04.htm .

Boyd, P. D. A. (2004). 'Mary McMurtrie, painter of Scots Roses'. Historic Rose Journal Royal National Rose Society. No. 28 , autumn 2004, p 7. Web version at http://www.peterboyd.com/mcmurtrie.htm .

Boyd, P. D. A. (2004). 'Scots Roses: a new look at an exuberant group of old roses'. Historic Rose Journal Royal National Rose Society. No 28, autumn 2004, pp 2-11. Web version at http://www.peterboyd.com/rosapimp3.htm .

Joy, P., Kauppila-Laine, M. & Urhonen, E. (2004). Pimpinella: kylämaiseman ruusu [Finland finds her Scotch Roses]. The Santtio Foundation, Uusikaupunki, Finland, 2004, ISBN 951- 98907-2-6. 112 pp.

McMurtrie, M. (1998). Scots Roses of Hedgerows and Wild Gardens. Antique Collectors' Club Ltd., Woodbridge.


Peter D. A. Boyd, Collections Manager, Shrewsbury Museums Service, Barker Street, Shrewsbury, Shropshire SY1 1QH United Kingdom

e-mail: peterboyd@shrewsbury.gov.uk .


La Roseraie du Val-de-Marne

Les Amis de la Roseraie du Val-de-Marne

La Roseraie du Val-de-Marne á l'Haÿ les Roses


See Scots Roses and other Pimpinellifolias for other papers on Scots Roses by Peter Boyd



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